THE tragic accident at a railway crossing at Pattoki in Punjab on Tuesday is yet another reminder that once negligence sets in, disaster is never far away. The accident which took the lives of two newly married couples has been blamed on the man in charge of the crossing at the time. It was around 10 am when the Khyber Mail from Lahore hit a car carrying the two brothers and their wives — a time when railway staff are expected to be rested and ready for the day’s work. Unfortunately, the railways’ vulnerability to all manner of accidents is well documented however much the authorities may promise a turnaround. Late last year, reports emerged in the papers describing 2019 as one of the worst years for Pakistan Railways, with some 100 accidents of a minor or major nature taking place. Other occurrences signifying system failure, such as the breaking down of 111 train engines en route, were in addition to these accidents.
Accidents at crossings are frequent, even though not much effort is required to ensure that railway phattaks are properly manned. Indeed, rail tracks all over the country have many unmanned crossings, and to give readers just one example, a score of accidents took place at these unmanned pickets between August 2018 and June 2019. Sadly, these unmanned danger spots are often accepted with a sense of resignation; hardly any step is taken to make the crossings more secure after a tragedy. The site of Tuesday’s collision has witnessed gory scenes of a train ramming hard into a car or some other vehicle all too often. Most infamously, an accident here in 2016 killed eight people. It is a shame that such accidents are allowed to happen in these technologically advanced times. But the railways has not even learnt to use simple gadgets to ensure greater security — like a mobile phone to communicate to the person manning the crossing that the Khyber Mail is just a few kilometres away.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2020